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Stanford offense will feature Christian McCaffrey, different supporting cast

Quarterback Kevin Hogan is among the high-profile departures for Stanford's offense this season. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Christian McCaffrey made history in 2015, amassing 3,864 all-purpose yards on 8.9 yards per touch -- figures that surpassed Barry Sanders' marks during his legendary 1988 season at Oklahoma State.

Perhaps most impressively, McCaffrey blazed this path of destruction as a sophomore, so he'll have at least one more opportunity to deliver in a Stanford uniform. But if 2016 is going to see an encore performance, McCaffrey will have to find success with a significantly different supporting cast.

The departure of quarterback Kevin Hogan, obviously, is the biggest change. Keller Chryst or Ryan Burns will have massive shoes to fill: Hogan's rating and yards per attempt placed him in the top five nationally in both categories. This passing efficiency, combined with game-changing scrambling ability, made Hogan an excellent counter to defenses that keyed on McCaffrey -- and there were many of them.

But skill-position star power aside, the true engine of Stanford's offensive success -- they ended up leading the Pac-12 by averaging 40.9 points per conference game -- resided up front. And that's where the Cardinal face a critical reloading test. Left tackle Kyle Murphy, left guard Joshua Garnett and center Graham Shuler are all gone, opening the door for a major reshuffling of the offensive line.

When Stanford operated with four new starters up front in 2014, the offense struggled mightily. When the line played poorly against Northwestern to open the 2015 season, the Cardinal didn't reach the end zone a single time. Those two facts underscore another one: Although Stanford has accumulated elite speed weapons to light up highlight reels, the beating heart of the Cardinal offense still lies within the hogs up front.

Right guard Johnny Caspers and right tackle Casey Tucker are the two returning starters. The Stanford staff can elect to move the latter to the left side to protect their right-handed quarterback's blind side, or they can roll with David Bright -- Murphy's backup in 2015 -- at left tackle. The Cardinal hope Brandon Fanaika will succeed Garnett as a road-grader at guard, and Shuler's departure opens the door for Jesse Burkett at center.

Chemistry trumps all else here: Stanford's offensive line must jell more quickly than the 2014 unit did. The recipe for trial-by-fire in the Cardinal's first six games is there: Kansas State, USC, at UCLA, at Washington, Washington State, at Notre Dame.

But McCaffrey and Stanford's new quarterback will face this crucible with the benefit of experience at other skill positions. Although receiver Devon Cajuste and tight end Austin Hooper are both gone, there is enough returning production to foster confidence in the Cardinal's continued ability to stretch the field.

Shaw expects McCaffrey to be even better in 2016 -- "he's only 19 years old, he was just a kid this year," he said after the Rose Bowl. Backfield mate Bryce Love, one of the fastest players in the Pac-12, will certainly see his role as the Robin to McCaffrey's Batman increase.

Between those two, Stanford should pack versatility that will extend to the perimeter, where receiver Michael Rector's return maintains a credible deep passing threat. Francis Owusu and Trent Irwin give this position group two more experienced options, and the future opportunities should lie with players like JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Isaiah Brandt-Sims. The former is a 6-foot-3 target whose length can assuage the hurt of Cajuste's departure, and the latter is a track star who is faster than Rector.

Tight ends Dalton Schultz and Greg Taboada -- both productive this past season -- are the Cardinal's next options at that critical position, and they will be aided in the run blocking game by fullback Daniel Marx, who is expected to be back after suffering a season-ending injury late in 2015.

On that note, it will be interesting to see where Stanford goes in the short-yardage run game. Remound Wright has exhausted his eligibility. Shaw might turn to sophomore Cameron Scarlett, a 220-pound back built in the mold of Tyler Gaffney, to fill a big void: Wright scored 15 touchdowns last season.

The 2016 season will mark a great challenge for the Stanford offense. The staff hopes that recent recruiting prowess will trump all the turnover at critical positions.

At this point, only two things are clear: The schedule certainly isn't forgiving, but the presence of McCaffrey is. His ability alone should mask some of the Cardinal's inevitable early hiccups, but the unit must develop quickly around him if this offense is to remain consistently productive moving forward.